While the Rhine and Danube are by far the most popular destinations for a river cruise, some 50 of the world’s rivers now offer varied adventures.
They range from Hungary’s newly developing Tisza River to the exotic Gambia and Senegal rivers of West Africa, the Peruvian Amazon and the increasingly popular Chobe River in Botswana, which allows a safari cruise among hippos and elephants.
In Europe, the Elbe River is getting increasing attention and is notable for its sandstone gorges that provide dramatic, if compact, scenery.
It flows through Germany and the Czech Republic, with journeys taking in visits to baroque Dresden, the porcelain factory at Meissen and the historic town of Wittenberg, and often beginning or ending overland in Prague.
Explore The Loire Valley's Fabulous Chateaux
At the moment, Viking River Cruises is the only major river-cruise company sailing the Elbe; it is launching two new custom-designed, shallow-hulled vessels there this year.
Noble Caledonia is a boutique alternative, on whose ships you can also sail Germany and Poland’s Oder River.
The last couple of years have seen an explosion of river cruising in France, particularly on the Rhone and Saone rivers through Provence and Burgundy, and around Bordeaux.
It’s surprising that the famous Loire River west of Paris has received no cruise attention, but that’s about to change. CroisiEurope (the French-owned, biggest river-cruise operator in Europe) launches the first ever Loire cruises this year on its new ship Loire Princesse for an exploration of the valley’s fabulous Renaissance chateaux and historic towns.
CroisiEurope also has unusual short cruises on Guadalquivir River in Spain.
The journey between Moscow and St Petersburg on the Volga waterways, and the sail through Portugal’s Douro River are other key European trips that have seen an enormous rise in popularity, with most major cruise companies now floating ships in both destinations.
The World's Cruising Frontier
While many travellers associate river cruising with Europe, there are in fact as many (and probably more) rivers beyond Europe that offer holidays afloat.
Arguably the most fabulous is the Nile, where many cruise companies have currently suspended operations thanks to Egypt’s evolving political situation, though some companies such as Abercrombie & Kent and Sonesta continue to operate.
The Yangtze River in China has been long established as a river-cruise destination, and the sail through the celebrated Three Gorges provides some of the world’s most dramatic riverine scenery.
There’s plenty of lively interest too in the Mekong River through Vietnam and Cambodia, where most major cruise companies now offer journeys.
As for the Irrawaddy, a few years ago it was unchartered territory; now many cruise companies sail in Myanmar. Pioneering and always-interesting Pandaw River Expeditions launches another ship shortly that will also sail Myanmar’s Chindwin River.
Asia is the big cruise frontier of the moment, with just about every company scrambling to launch new ships there.
Places to keep an eye on in future might be northeast India’s Brahmaputra River – currently only serviced by Assam-Bengal Navigation Company – and the Kerala waterways of southern India.
But the Ganges is the hot river of the world right now. Travelmarvel and APT both launch ships there this year, Uniworld next year, and Cruisco is now offering Ganges cruises for the first time.
Check out some Europe's great river journeys. Take Me To The River
Discover Asia in comfort. Discover Asia On An APT River Cruise
What About The Big Muddy?
It seems surprising how long it has taken for major operators to get going on another of the world’s most famous navigable rivers, the Mississippi.
American Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat Company have long offered itineraries between New Orleans and either Nashville or Memphis, but you can expect the Mississippi to boom.
Avalon Waterways, APT and Scenic Tours now have itineraries, and Viking River Cruises starts this year. American Cruise Lines is floating out the new paddlewheeler American Eagle, as well as a new 22-day itinerary that takes in most of the length of the mighty river between New Orleans and St Paul.
North America is relatively unknown as a river-cruise destination, but actually offers a whole host of interesting floats in boats.
Small Ship Cruises heads down the Mackenzie River in the Canadian Yukon. Blount Small Ship Adventures cruises the canals and waterways linking Montreal with New York, and Chicago with New Orleans.
American Cruise Lines and Blount also travel the Intercoastal Waterway, a series of linked rivers, canals and coastal bays taking in southern cities such as Charleston and Savannah.
The American river you’re most likely to hear more about is the Columbia River that winds through the volcano, vineyard and bear country of the US northwest.
American Cruise Lines, American Queen and Un-Cruise Adventures currently cruise there.
Landscapes are magnificent – one stretch of the river is nicknamed Volcano Alley – and gorges cut a spectacular opening through the Cascade Mountains.